Two GOP Candidates Wedded to “Marriage Vow”

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Two Republican presidential candidates have committed to “The Marriage Vow”—a campaign pledge created by The Family Leader, a Iowa Christian organization run by former gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats—and managed to endorse a bizarre assessment of slavery in the process. The four-page document, designed as a promise to fight against same-sex marriage, contains a spectrum of other statements, which Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum now have to embrace or reject.

Signing the pledge is a requirement for getting an endorsement from the influential Family Leader and the accompanying seal of approval from Vander Plaats, a “conservative kingmaker” who took 41% of the vote in the 2010 Republican primary and led a successful campaign to oust state supreme court justices who upheld gay marriage in Iowa.

Signers of the pledge promise that they have never committed adultery. They promise to vigorously oppose “any redefinition of the Institution of Marriage,” and they back language suggesting that homosexuality is a choice. They vow to protect women and children from “all forms of pornography” and, among other commitments, promise to reject “Sharia Islam.”

The following statement about slavery, which was the vow’s opening bullet point, has since been removed:

Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.

Obviously there are some weird suggestions of blame (e.g. Obama has failed to keep the parents of black children together) and an even weirder historical insinuation (i.e. Black children born into slavery right before the Civil War had it better than those born under Barack Obama). Compounding the problem is the single piece of evidence they footnote as proof—a literature review that was published in 2005, more than three years before Obama was elected.

Both Bachmann and Santorum have distanced themselves from the slavery preamble, while maintaining their loyalty to the rest of the manifesto. Santorum said it was “the right thing” for the Family Leader to remove it. A Bachmann spokeswoman said that, “In no uncertain terms, Congresswoman Bachmann believes that slavery was horrible and economic enslavement is also horrible.”*

Meanwhile, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (yes, he’s still around) has called the pledge “offensive and un-Republican.” Tim Pawlenty has said he’s reviewing it. Jon Huntsman has confirmed he won’t sign it. And if the last high-profile pledge—an anti-abortion vow from the Susan B. Anthony List—is any indication, Mitt Romney won’t be signing this one either.

* What might seem a gratuitous reference to “economic enslavement” is also a nod to one of Bachmann’s previous run-ins with such talk, when she controversially asserted that the liberal agenda in Washington was turning Americans “into a nation of slaves.” That was about six months before she said that the Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly” to end slavery, a misstatement she recently defended by saying she was referring to John Quincy Adams—who was 9 years old in 1776. Needless to say, references to enslavement have not been her most successful talking points.

Katy Steinmetz is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @KatySteinmetz. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.